The second phase in the Standard 8-Phase Protocol of EMDR Therapy is the preparation phase. It is here that we prepare the client to begin to do the work of reprocessing past traumatic memories. Preparation means that we complete such tasks as orient the client to trauma-informed EMDR Therapy; offer metaphors and models for reprocessing; present bilateral stimulation, in the form of eye movements or tapping; and teach self-regulation tools, such as the container or calm place, that will be integral to the work.
For more stable clients, the preparation phase is relatively efficient. For others, preparation and stabilization can run a longer course. The variance is normal and to be expected. As EMDR therapists, we learn this at the onset of our basic training. Throughout the years, however, I’ve added an invaluable piece to the preparation phase for every client, regardless of situation or level of stability: SWEEPS.
SWEEP, in its original form, is a concept I learned from Dr. Charles Sophy in his book, “Side By Side: The Revolutionary Mother-Daughter Program for Conflict-Free Communication”. (I’m the mother of a teenage daughter and, for a few rough years, used Dr. Sophy’s guide as one might cling to a compass while lost in the desert.)
Over time and with input from my clients, I’ve added an S and made a few slight modifications to Sophy’s original proposal. The following is a description of how I use SWEEPS with clients. I find this topic timely because, let’s be honest, we all could benefit from a dose of balance more than ever.
S is for SLEEP
Sleep is such an evasive, yet critical part of our lives. In my experience, people, especially busy, stressed-out adults, don’t prioritize their sleep enough. According to the Mayo Clinic, adults need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. (Yep, that includes you!) Contributing to this problem is the fact that many of our clients do not have good ‘sleep hygiene’. These are the folks who get to bed way too late, or stare at screens into the wee hours of the night, or eat and drink a little too much prior to bedtime, so that their sleep is fitful and does not result in actual rest.
When working with clients to bring their sleep back in line, we talk about their perfect number. (Do you know yours?) We look at their best times to sleep: are they an early-to-bed-early-to-rise person, or a night owl? We also consider what they can eliminate from their ‘daily dismount’, such as screens, alcohol, and caffeine. And what they might add to make the final hour they are awake each day the perfect prelude to a restful nights sleep. Some clients like to have a warm bath with lavender essential oils, others like to read a book and have a cup of camomile tea. Many people enjoy listening to meditation podcasts or journaling in bed before they drift off for the night. Whatever works for the individual is the perfect answer.
W is for WORK
For many people, finding balance in their lives with SWEEPS means pulling back in this category. Essentially, work can be thought of as anything productive. It can be the thing the client does to earn a living, and work can also include the tasks she tackles outside of her professional life. When considering the work category, I ask clients to look to create balance of this particular ‘bucket’ within the context of the others. For some clients, the ones that work too much, this means reprioritizing their schedule to allow for other elements, such as play, sleep, and exercise. For others, work and productivity is at a deficit and something they want to bolster. For either scenario, the goal is to strike a balance. What’s that old saying? All work and no play….
E is for EATING
Balance with eating will mean different things for different folks. However, the overarching principal here is to encourage our clients to think about their food (and beverage) consumption. Are they eating regularly? Too much? Too little? Could they make changes to improve the quality of the foods they eat? Or perhaps modify when, where, and with whom they eat? Are their meals rushed and hurried affairs? Or do they take time to prepare healthy meals and eat them in a leisurely manner?
In case this notion seems like an extravagance or a luxury only available to the privileged, let me be clear. I’m not suggesting a five course meal with fine china and cloth napkins. A balanced and healthy relationship to what, when, how, and with whom we eat can be realized within almost any budget, the key ingredient to success with eating is planning.
E is for EXERCISE
It’s no big secret that exercise has a positive and profound impact on our mental health. Regular exercise relieves stress, improves memory, helps us sleep better, and boosts our overall mood. Yet, many of our clients don’t engage in a regular exercise practice. When looking at balance, I like to start small and help the client who is out of practice in this category build from the ground up. A good first pass is often getting outside for a daily walk. From there, clients can begin to imagine and experiment with forms of exercise that they enjoy and can easily access: running, hiking, biking, swimming, basketball, tennis, and dance are a few crowd favorites.
Exercise doesn’t need to be expensive or take too much time. I often encourage clients to integrate mini-breaks of exercise throughout their work days, or engage their friends, partners, and children in physical activities. (Dodge ball anyone?) The internet, especially Youtube, have made many modes of exercise, from yoga to marital arts, virtually free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from anywhere the client has an internet connection. When all else fails, a good old-fashioned set of pushups and jumping jacks can do the trick. You get the point.
P is for PLAY
In her book, “The Power of Vulnerability”, Brené Brown proposes three elements of play revealed in the social science research. First, play is fully unproductive. This means that play is the polar opposite of work. Even if a client’s choice of play is to take a pottery class, and a bowl is ‘produced’ in the process, the intention of the activity is to simply have fun; the bowl is a bonus. The second element of play is that the client gets lost in it. The play begins and the client ceases to self-monitor and begins to fully embrace the moment. The third element of play is that, when engaged in it, the client does not want the play to end. Imagine a group of kids on the soccer field, fully present, not thinking about anything other than the ball. Life is good because they are engaged in the moment of play.
Adults are not great at play. In my experience, most of my clients ‘confess’ a massive deficit in this category. I’m careful to assure them that all is not lost. Play can still happen for us, at any age. For those clients who are long out of practice, bolstering play may take time. For almost everyone, prioritizing play requires a shift of focus. At first it might require the client to schedule planned moments of play. With time, clients often become reacquainted with their playful, child parts; in which case, play becomes more spontaneous and natural.
S is for SPIRITUAL PRACTICE
The final S of SWEEPS was an addition proposed by clients throughout the years. Some clients have added the S to represent SEX, with the intention of prioritizing their sexual selves and improving their intimate relationships. Others have chosen to use the S for SPIRITUAL PRACTICE and use the category to balance either time spent in formalized religious endeavors, or focus on more personal spiritual practices, such as prayer, meditation, chanting, journaling, or other emotional expression.
Whereas with sleep, eating, or exercise, clients can reference generally accepted goals and practices, for this last letter of the acronym, the S is uniquely personal. Whatever the client wants and needs, the overarching goal is to help promote a more balanced and holistic experience of self.
As the client begins to flesh out the details of what SWEEPS looks like for them personally, I encourage them to begin trying to create balance between the categories within a week. Once that becomes more manageable, the client can play around with trying to hit all elements of SWEEPS within any given day. Some days it’s easy, other days its near impossible…and that’s all okay. The goal is to help our clients consider the balance of their lives and adjust as they go.
To learn more about integrating EMDR therapy into your practice, check-out the Basic Training page on this website for information on virtual and in-person trainings. You are also welcome to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, I wish you peace and balance in your personal and professional life. Happy SWEEPing!